Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Less Than PERFECT Dining Experience

Our Disney World vacation was really an in-law family reunion of sorts. All of Diane's immediate family and their families gathered for five days of non-stop, "Happiest Place on Earth", amuse-yourself-to-death, fun. The cast of characters included Diane's parents, affectionately known as Grammy & Papa; her brother David and his wife and two boys; her sister, Debbie; and of course the four in our family, bringing the grand total of our party to eleven.

OK, so on our first day at Disney World, my sister-in-law, Debbie, made dinner reservations at one of the resort restaurants. We were a larger party so they couldn't accomodate us until 8:00 pm. Fine. We spent the day at the Magic Kingdom and returned to our rooms in the early evening for a little R & R and to get cleaned up for dinner. We arrived at the restaurant early for our 8:00 pm "reservation" and were told that our table wasn't ready yet. That's when the wait for our "reservation" began.

At first the kids were pretty good, wandering around and checking out all of the cool decorations and knick-knacks adorning the hotel lobby. In the center of the lobby was a gigantic globe, and outside the restaurant was a replica (or actual...I'm not sure) of a ship's wheelhouse complete with buttons and switches and, of course the large wooden wheel. These captivated their attention for awhile, but when you're waiting for an unspecified amount of time with four kids under the age of 7, bad things can happen. Soon all of them were designated to their own chair with the threat of immanent bodily harm should they move.

At this point, our wait for our "reservation" stretched to twenty minutes, and all the while the hostess kept seating smaller parties of two, four, and even six people. Finally, Debbie ventured over and asked how much longer it would take to seat us. The details here are a little foggy, since I was busy threatening the children, but at some point in the conversation the hostess revealed that they didn't take "reservations" and that their "reservations" were actually more like "priority seating". Uncle Dave joined in the fray over what EXACTLY the difference was between a "reservation" and "priority seating", and, more importantly, why were still waiting even though we had arranged for what we thought was a "reservation" but in reality was just "priority seating".

The restaurant manager eventually got involved in the debate and solved it immediately. "No, this is a reservation," she explained to the hostess. Ah, a bright spot in this tale. We still had to wait another five minutes while they prepped our table, since our "priority seating reservation" clearly had not been a priority to them. The hostess finally led us to our table, and as I entered the restaurant, my jaw hit the floor. THE PLACE WAS HALF-EMPTY (or half-full, depending on your this point, I was in a half-empty kind of mood)!!! You would have thought that they were bursting at the seams, but they were actually too lazy to strategically seat the smaller parties and push a couple of tables together for us!

Now usually when a restaurant screws up enough to get the manager involved, the rest of the staff bend over backwards to make sure the rest of your meal/experience there is positive. Usually. But our restaurant folly had just begun. The waitress arrived, apologized for our wait, and informed us that our meal was discounted by 20%. At least they were moving in the right direction, and we all gave her a heartfelt thanks. She proceeded to take our drink order, and I chose a pinot noir from the wine list. "That's a brand new menu that we just got in today," she explained. "We don't have either of the pinot noirs in yet."

"Then why are you giving me this menu?" I thought to myself. I was about to share my thoughts with her, but decided against it and instead asked her what they had in a red. She suggested a cabernet sauvignon and I agreed. She left and presumably turned in our drink order, then returned and took our dinner order without incident. A short while later our drinks came, all except the wine that my sister-in-law and I ordered.

In the meantime, my brother-in-law, Dave, returned from the all-you-can-eat salad and desert bar that he ordered with his dinner. He was the only one in our party to order this and he brought an assortment of rolls for the kids to keep them occupied. He made a couple of trips to the buffet for this purpose. It is key to keep the kids happy.

The manager then made a visit to our table to see how things were going. Fine, except that our wine was MIA. She assured us that she would take care of it right away. She disappeared to the front of the restaurant and reappeared a minute later...wineless. "I'm so sorry, we are out of that wine." She apologized. I just laughed. Our dinner woes had become comical. I calmly explained to her that we were now attempting to order our fourth glass of wine and asked her to bring us anything that was red and good. She apologized again, though this time I could tell that she was more than a little aggravated at her staff's incompetence, and hurried off to fulfill our drink order.

The manager returned a short while later, wine in hand, and told us that the wine was free of charge. Duh. She saw the kids chomping on their dinner rolls and asked us if we would like MORE rolls. Up to this point we had received NO dinner rolls. These rolls were commandeered from the salad bar by uncle Dave. "Oh, rolls come with the dinner?" my wife, Diane, asked. It was an honest question, completely void of cynicism. The poor restaurant manager nodded nervously. "PER-FECT!!" Diane shrieked and all of us burst out in laughter.

The manager retreated like a whipped puppy, tail between her legs. She was beginning to loathe our table. I am happy to say that we were not mean-spirited in any way the whole evening, and it paid off. The food was delicious as was the wine, and we received several baskets of rolls. Our 20% discount was also increased to 50%. In the end they did the right thing. But all of it was so easily avoidable. I wonder how much money they're losing by covering up their mistakes. It just boggles my mind. At any rate, our PERFECT dining experience will always be good for a good laugh.

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